Thursday, January 20, 2005

Local Rag & Local Govt

A key part of the political landscape out in the eastern reaches of empire is the local paper, the Howick & Pakuranga Times. It is in my opinion, one of the best local papers in the Auckland region, and has won many awards along these lines.

It is crucial to the political fortunes of any candidate in Pakuranga because:

a) it covers the whole electorate, with smaller circulation in Clevedon and Manukau East, meaning that the political focus is on the politics in Pakuranga.

b) it's the only local paper to really cover politics. The other local, the Eastern Courier (inl) stays aloof from election matters, or at least any to do with Labour.

c) the Times is the focal point for civil society/political debate in the electorate, in a way that I have not observed anywhere else. The Letters page overflows with partisan debate, and any local issue must gain ceverage in the Times to develop any real legs.

d) it has a good, stable team of journo's who know the area and the local politics. Unlike many larger rivals, this smallish local paper actually devotes time to looking into stories and talking to the relevant people.

That's not to say that I always agree with the Times editorial viewpoint or priorities, but by and large the coverage is balanced, and for a local paper, an admiral amount of energy is put into real political stories as opposed to the never ending stream of mindless pieces about Mrs Miggins' sock stealing cat that many locals seem to rely on.

The local govt story referred to above has to do with bouquet given to the Botany Downs Community Board in the Times for undertaking a number of community initiatives. That particular board is run by the local right wing mob called People's Choice, but on this particular occasion the bouquet is indeed deserved - the Board has closed down a dangerous underpass, and helped liase between the community and local police.

That's good stuff and credit where credit's due. The thing that hasn't been picked up is that most of the right-wing board members campaigned on the tiresome old clique about local govt only being about "roads, rats, and rubbish", and on the basis of that, running a populist campaign to attack existing council policies that went beyond this, and heaven forbid, tried to make the city a more dynamic, harmonious, and interesting place to live. Such policies were lambasted by People's Choice as wasteful, and a number of there candidates even called for the abolition of Community Boards. You know the drill - Council should be sticking to "core business".

Yet what the People's Choice members of Botany Board have discovered, is that building a cohesive community is more complex that a set of cliches, and that the powers given to local government to make decisions at a local level (routinely criticised by the right as wasteful and breaucratic) can actually be used to good effect. Good on them for recognising this and working for their community!

2 comments:

Jami-Lee Ross said...

Michael, I agree with you about the Times, it's an excellent paper. I'm sure you know, however, that there is a stark difference between being an active representative and trying to give that appearance by running to the local papers every hour of the day.

Just as the centre-left has the greens, the centre-right in Manukau City has it's token loopies known as Peoples Choice. Their lack of support in the recent elections is highlighted by the fact that they only won one seat on the Council with an incumbent. Michael Williams is brilliant at blowing his own trumpent, but thats about all. He and his half of that Community Board are not typical of all centre-right Councillors and Community Board members in Manukau!

And if you're stuck on any Council issues in the Howick ward, feel free to contact me.

michael wood said...

It's a good point you make about the absolute lack of success that People's Choice had at the polls last year. Despite their well resoursed campaign and populist (if brainless) policies, they failed to make any real ground.

Pleased to hear that Councillors such as yourselves plan to follow a more independent, and moderate line.

All the issues I am dealing with so far are based in the Pakuranga Ward, but I'll be sure to take up your kind offer of help if things crop up in Howick :-)